Movie Politics and Piracy in the EU

With the news that a group of Dutch film companies are suing the Dutch government for alleged inaction on piracy, it seems worth re-upping this piece from 2011 about movie production and piracy in the EU.  In short, we’d argue that there’s a widespread misunderstanding of how IP and EU cultural politics really interact.  Here’s part of it:

For better and for worse, European film operates within a system of  high public subsidies, low production costs, and persistent cultural and institutional market barriers at the national level. The last estimate (in 2004) by the European Audiovisual Observatory put direct public subsidies for audiovisual production at around 1.3 billion euros. The resulting industry is a major success if measured by the quantity of production, and arguably also in terms of cultural diversity and ‘quality’ of the kind associated with the auteur tradition.  But the European cinema also remains resolutely ‘national,’ with a high proportion of revenues coming from domestic distribution and relatively few films attaining wider European (or global) success.


Some of this insularism reflects linguistic and cultural differences within Europe.  And some of it reflects the fragmentation of the European market.  The burden of rights clearance across 27 countries and innumerable production companies makes it very difficult to distribute European films widely within Europe–and far more difficult, in particular, than licensing large catalogs from the six US studios.  The EC has made reducing these market barriers a high priority, but has shown less certainty about how to move forward.  As EC reports have noted:


the practice of territorial licensing has a lot to do with commercial decisions based on the structure of a European market that is characterised by linguistic and cultural differences, as well as by high transaction costs in distributing local content across borders. (p.185)

In other words, it’s not clear where the market obstacles stop and the mismatch of product with demand begins.

Continue reading “Movie Politics and Piracy in the EU”

A Note on TERA’s “The Economic Contribution of the Creative Industries to EU GDP and Employment”

TERA Associates has released a follow up to their 2010 study on the impact of “piracy” on creative industries in the European Union.  The new study, entitled “The Economic Contribution of the Creative Industries to EU GDP and Employment,” makes three arguments:

1)     That the creative industries include 8.3 million “core” creative jobs and 5.7 million “interdependent” and “non-dedicated support” jobs, totaling 14% of the EU27 workforce and contributing 6.8% of GDP (€ 860 billion).

2)     That between 2008 and 2011, piracy “destroyed” € 27.1 – 39.7 billion in economic value, resulting in a loss of between 64,089 and 955,125 jobs.  According to TERA’s forecast, these numbers are likely to climb to € 166-240 billion by 2015, with 600,000 to 1.2 million jobs lost.

3)     That although economic depression and other factors may play a role in some sectoral changes (such as retail), these job and economic losses are primarily attributable to the failure of EU member states to adopt stronger IP enforcement measures.

As a researcher responsible for several studies of the impact of piracy on creative economies, I was asked by consumers’ and citizens’ rights groups in 2011 to provide an independent review of the first TERA study.[1]  In those comments, I argued that the report offered a selective account of the economics of infringement that overstated the impact of piracy.  Since the new report doubles down on those findings and introduces some new methodologies, I have prepared new comments.

Download the note.

Continue reading “A Note on TERA’s “The Economic Contribution of the Creative Industries to EU GDP and Employment””

File Sharing and the Greek Crisis

What else is going on in Greece these days? Did you guess: a major crackdown on Greek file sharing sites?

On this subject, I’m very pleased to publish a guest essay by Dr. Petros Petridis of Panteio University in Athens.


File Sharing and the Greek Crisis

Petros Petridis
Panteio University
petros.petridis at
twitter: @petridispetros

According to the major copyright industry groups, Greece has among the highest rates of “piracy” in the European Union. The Business Software Alliance recently put this number at 61% of the software market—exceeded only by Romania and Bulgaria. The IFPI listed Greece in its top ten ‘priority countries’ for music piracy in 2006. The US Trade Representative’s office has kept Greece on its “Watchlist” of badly behaving countries since 2008.

It is easy to see file sharing through the lens of the larger Greek crisis—as part of the wider breakdown and circumvention of formal institutions. But the file sharing story in Greece is both simpler and more complicated than that.

Continue reading “File Sharing and the Greek Crisis”

Comment on European Audiovisual Policy

I’ve turned The European Strategy Trilogy into something a little more refined and submitted it to the European Commission’s public consultation on ‘Assessing State aid for films and other audiovisual works.’ 

Download it here.  Here’s the most radical suggestion:

Modernize how public funding agencies conceive their mission, with an emphasis on much wider and cheaper distribution of EU movies. We propose:

  • Making public funding contingent on creative commons commercial use licensing of the work after an initial period of commercial release (provisionally, five years). The CC license would allow works to circulate at no cost, without requiring permission from the rightsholder.

The European Strategy Trilogy


Now gathered in one place for the first time, The European Strategy Trilogy is finally available in hi-definition HTML.

Why is the pan-European cinema, in effect, the American cinema?

Why do European leaders act as if piracy is a problem when almost nobody pirates European movies?

Why can’t the European Commission adopt policies to bring more French movies about the self-destructive alter-egos of French directors to wider audiences?

How many Yuanbucks will the UK Provisional Authority pay the WB-USA to keep it from moving production of the 2021 Harry Potter reboot to the Czech Hegemonic Zone?

Find the answers to these questions and more in:

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part One)

In which we discuss the long list of current EU copyright enforcement initiatives and ask: does this make sense for Europe?

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part Deux)

In which we deploy evidence, including World Bank data and a list of the top 100 pirated movies, to argue that it does not make sense!  And that the French position (that of our own peuple) makes the least sense of all!

The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part Three)

In which we discuss the dilemmas facing EU audiovisual policy and make some modest proposals to free European cinema from its obscurity and do away with the public financing of Hollywood blockbusters.

The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part 3)

When we last left the European Commission, it was continuing its pursuit of  SMUS (Send Money to the US) based IP policies.  We raised some questions about the wisdom of this strategy.  But there is also a different EC conversation underway about revision of the rules governing public film subsidies.  And this one is more genuinely vexed and interesting.

As I noted in the Send Money Pt.2 post a couple weeks ago, Europe produces a lot of movies–over 1100 in 2009–but very few that reach audiences beyond the national markets in which they are produced.  Because movies carry a lot of the burden of representing culture in Europe, this failure generates a lot of anxiety.  So what to do? Continue reading “The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part 3)”

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part Deux)


Most of the time, the international politics of intellectual property law are pretty easy to follow: countries that are large exporters of intellectual property usually favor stronger international IP agreements that help exploit international markets.  Countries that are large importers of IP, in contrast, generally favor lower levels of IP protection that minimize the outflow of royalties, licensing fees, and other payments for foreign-owned products and technologies–whether computers, drugs, movies, or books.  Whatever other rhetorics are in play, from the rights of authors to the right to development, political positions usually line up with those underlying incentives.

The turn toward the use of trade agreements to set IP obligations–from the early bilateral agreements of the 1980s to the WTO’s TRIPS agreement in the early 1990s–more or less formalized this instrumental approach to IP law.  Trade agreements, at the end of the day, are about economic deals–not morality or even fairness.  For anyone clinging to a moral interpretation of these arrangements, it’s worth revisiting at the US and EU positions in the South African AIDS drug controversy from the late 1990s or more recent opposition to the proposed WIPO treaty for the visually impaired.

I raise this not to attack trade agreements, but to ask some similarly instrumental questions about the European Commission’s position on IP rights and enforcement.  Over the past two decades, the EC has been a very active proponent of higher IP standards and stronger enforcement, from the ACTA agreement, to the upcoming revision to the Enforcement Directive, to the imminent extension of copyright on recordings (see Part Un).  Let’s ask the obvious question: why? Continue reading “The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part Deux)”

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US

(this is now Part Un, Part Deux is here)

So a lot is going on in the EU on the intellectual property front these days!  Let’s run down the past six weeks or so.

Our last post was about the release of the Hargreaves Review, the UK government funded study of IP policy in the digital economy that called out a lot of bad industry research, made some good recommendations for reform, and punted on enforcement.  This followed on the heels of a British court ruling against a group of local ISPs, who were challenging the Digital Economy Act on the grounds that it was incompatible with wider European law.  The ‘three strikes’ provisions of the act are now likely to go forward.

In late April, French President Sarkozy said that France’s as-yet-untested HADOPI (aka ‘3 strikes’) measures designed to disconnect repeat infringers were a mistake, then hosted an ‘e-G8’ conference framed around an ostensible need to “civilize” the Internet, by which he mostly meant getting tougher on piracy.  Meanwhile, the company responsible for collecting data on infringement for the HADOPI initiative, Trident Media Guard was hacked, revealing internet user data and an apparently wide array of security flaws.  This triggered a suspension of HADOPI surveillance and, potentially, the HADOPI agency’s much more ambitious plans to monitor consumer internet use. Continue reading “The European Strategy: Send Money to the US”